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Rotator cuff injury
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Rotator cuff injury

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A rotator cuff injury is a tear or inflammation of the rotator cuff tendons in the shoulder. A rotator cuff injury is a painful strain in the tendons and muscles surrounding your shoulder joint. Your rotator cuff is made up of four muscles and their attached tendons. The muscles connect your upper arm bone (humerus) with your shoulder blade. They also help hold the ball of your upper arm bone firmly in your shoulder socket, as though holding a golf ball on a tee. The combination results in the greatest range of motion of any joint in your body.

As you get older, your risk of a rotator cuff injury increases. Causes of the injury may include poor posture, falling, lifting and repetitive overhead arm activities. These may include throwing a baseball, reaching up to work on a car on a rack or placing items on shelves above your head. The injury is also common among people whose jobs or hobbies include heavy demands on their shoulders, such as athletes and people in the construction trades.

Self-care

minor injury often heals on its own, if you take care of it. If you think you've injured your rotator cuff, try these steps:

  • Rest your shoulder. Stop doing what caused the pain and try to avoid painful movements. Limit heavy lifting or overhead activity for four to seven days until your shoulder starts to feel better.

  • Apply ice and heat. Putting ice on your shoulder helps reduce inflammation and pain. Use a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables or a towel filled with ice cubes for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Do this every couple of hours the first day or two. After about two or three days, when the pain and inflammation have improved, hot packs or a heating pad may help relax tightened and sore muscles. Limit heat applications to 20 minutes.

  • Take pain relievers. Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen (Aleve), may help reduce pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) may also help relieve pain. Follow label directions and stop taking the drugs when the pain improves.

  • Keep your muscles limber. After one or two days, do some gentle exercises to keep your shoulder muscles limber. Total inactivity can cause stiff joints. In addition, favoring your shoulder for a long period of time can lead to frozen shoulder, a condition in which your shoulder becomes so stiff you can barely move it. Once your injury heals and you have good range of motion in your shoulder, continue exercising. Daily shoulder stretches and a balanced shoulder-strengthening program can help prevent a recurrence of your injury. In addition, daily exercises can help prevent an injury if you use your rotator cuff often. Your doctor or a physical therapist can help you plan an exercise routine.

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:07 AM